Syrian opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun on Thursday welcomed the defection of the deputy oil minister and told AFP he expects more government officials and politicians to follow suit.
“I hail the deputy (oil) minister who defected and I call on all government members and public servants ... to abandon this regime and join the ranks of the revolution for freedom and dignity,” said Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group.
“I expect for sure that there are other government officials and politicians who will follow suit,” he added.
Syria’s deputy oil minister resigned on Thursday, becoming the most senior official to join the rebel ranks, as Washington revealed it was mulling giving non-lethal aid to the insurgency.
Abdo Hussameddin announced his resignation in a video posted by activists on YouTube saying he was joining the revolt.
“I, the engineer Abdo Hussameddin, the deputy oil minister ... announce my defection from the regime and my resignation,” he said in the video.
“I am joining the revolution of the people who reject injustice and the brutal campaign of the regime, which is seeking to crush the people's demand for freedom and dignity,” he added.
Hussameddin said he had served in the Syrian government for 33 years and did not wish to end his life “serving a criminal regime.”
Hussameddin becomes the highest-ranking Syrian official to resign from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been battling a year-long revolt.
U.S. to aid rebels
The news of the ministerial resignation came hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Washington was looking at delivering non-lethal aid to Syria’s rebels, hinting at the first direct U.S. assistance to the forces seeking Assad’s downfall.
While outraged at the killing of civilians in Syria, the U.S. government is opposed to taking unilateral military action and favors pursuing diplomacy to force Assad to step down, Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We are reviewing all possible additional steps that can be taken with our international partners to support efforts to protect the Syrian people, end the violence and ensure regional stability, including potential military options if necessary,” Panetta stressed.
Asked by Senator Richard Blumenthal if the United States was ready to deliver communications equipment to Syrian rebels, Panetta said: “I’d prefer to discuss that in a closed session but I can tell you that we're considering an array of non-lethal assistance.”
Russia under pressure
Meanwhile, Russia is still not flinching in the face of Western and Arab pressure to change its stance on the Syria conflict and its defiance may yet increase as Vladimir Putin heads back to the Kremlin.
Western powers have queued up to tell Putin it is high time, after his resounding election victory, for Moscow to start exerting pressure on Assad’s regime and support sanctions over the bloody opposition crackdown.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also heading to Cairo on Saturday for crunch talks with foreign ministers of Arab countries who have been bitterly critical of Russia’s intransigence.
The Russian foreign ministry has already sternly warned the West not to indulge in “wishful thinking” by expecting its position to change after the election and saying its policy was not determined by “electoral cycles.”
According to the United Nations, more than 7,500 people have died in the brutal government crackdown to put down the revolt that erupted last March.
The Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross had been trying since last Friday to enter Baba Amr district in Homs ̶ the target of a month-long bombardment to oust rebel fighters ̶ but the government repeatedly barred them from evacuating wounded civilians and delivering desperately needed supplies.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 27 people were killed in violence across Syria on Wednesday alone, 10 of them in the central Homs province.